August 5, 2013

Adopt-A-Hen

Here are some of our new girls. Taking a break from egg laying. This is our new batch of egg layers and they have just come into production. They are really starting to crank out the eggs! Delicious, yummy, Yardley Farms brown eggs! From our Free Range chickens. Dark, yellow, healthy yolks. 

We are once again offering our Adopt-A-Hen program. Read all about the program on our website. A great experience of children. Come out to Yardley Farms, pick out the hen you want to adopt. You get a Certificate of Adoption with your hen's and child's picture on it, compost, and pre-purchased 12 doz eggs. The advantages: lower cost;  your orders filled first so you know you will always get our delicious eggs for your table; a tour of the farm, meet the horses and goat, great memories.

July 5, 2013

Spring Honey Is Here

Whew, what an exhausting three days! We've been harvesting spring 2013 honey and had to get several additional storage containers! Great spring honey flow. The girls were very busy. This year we have five hives and were able to harvest honey off of four of them. The spring has been good in terms of flowers, but all the wet cool days kept the bees confined to their hives. They have been a little "testy" not being able to get out and gather pollen and nectar. Anyway, hot, homemade biscuits this morning for breakfast with lots of dripping honey on them. Ya'll come!

Natural, wildflower honey, no heat and local. Great for local allergens for allergies!

Honey can be purchased either directly from us on our Yardley Farms website or through Clemson Area Food Exchange (CAFE). Available in pints or quarts. Enjoy!
pints--$9.00    quarts--$18.00

July 27, 2012

Ants, Bee, Termintes, and Humans

On our farm we have four different kinds of eusocial critters: ants, bees, termites, and humans. We, as humans, have a lot in common with the other three. Eusocial refers to those species that live together, have multiple generations present, and practice altruism (self-sacrificing behavior). Eusocial species are rare in the animal kingdom. I am one of the four eusocial species and a beekeeper, so work with bees another one, and put up with the latter two--ants and termites. I am currently reading E. O. Wilson's newest books, Social Conquest of Earth, a fascinating read going back to my roots as an evolutionary geneticist, and hence this posting.

At 85, E. O. Wilson, Harvard professor emeritus, is once again rocking the zoological world. Late in 2010 he published a co-aurthored paper in the scientific and very prestigious journal, Nature, on alturism and group selection. Why is this important to the lay public? Because it explains why we really have altruism, and from there a short jump to compassion. It explains why humans have these traits. But his new explanation also tells us why we have so much selfish behavior too. One of the big head-scratching puzzles (Think, Cat in the Hat) of evolutionary biology theory has always been how to adequately explain altruism.

This is ironic because good old Charles Darwin himself pointed to the answer way back in the 1870's. (Darwin by the way has also been called the father of psychology as he pointed out early on that many behavioral traits are a result of natural selection and have a large genetic component. Thought you might want to know that.)

Darwin, however, was not very good at math, much less mathematical theory--not to mention he had to wait 90 or so years for R. A. Fisher, Sewell Wright, and J.B.S. Haldane to come up with the theory. With all due respect, he was a theoretical Neanderthal, e. g. he ignored Gregor Mendel's work altogether because a) it involved some simple math and b) he didn't understand it.
 
Altruism is defined as self sacrifice or selfless behavior. Here's the kicker: the evolutionary process has heretofore been explained by what is called individual selection, defined as selection acting at the level of the individual. Keep in mind that evolution is primarily driven by those that are more successful and reproducing and surviving at the level of the individual. Got to do both to stay in the ole evolutionary game. The fitness of an individual is the product of their reproduction and their survival. Altruist lower these for themselves insividually; they lower their fitness. That is how you define altruism in evolutionary terms.

Group selection in contrast is selection acting at the level of the group. Darwin pointed out way back when that he could see how a group of individuals that cooperated and worked together could successfully out compete a similar group made up of individuals that did not cooperate and pull together. Or restated, how a group of selfless/altruistic individuals could out compete a group of selfish individuals. However, group selection became a no-no for the last 40+ years; you didn't speak its name in professional circles, until Wilson raised its ugly head again.

To make a long story short and not go into any detail, what Wilson shows is that altruism in eusocial critters, including humans, is the result of group selection. And that in these species, evolution involved  a tensioned balance between individual selection and group selection. That is why we are always in tension between our selfish behavior and selfless behaviors. This tension is how we got here. Our selfish behavior had nothing to do with poor old Eve eating any damn apple in some mythological garden. Get real! Good old natural selection is how we got here, acting on mutations and genetic variation that gave us an adaptive edge.

Gassho







July 25, 2012

Walking Softly on the Land

Medicine Drum
Several years ago Strong Eagle Crawford and I did a workshop at Clemson's Universalist Unitarian Fellowship Church entitled, "Walking Softly on the Land." It was my only time to do a workshop with him. However, a few years later in 2004 I did a Native American vision quest that he facilitated out in the desert of Big Bend, Texas, part of the Chihuahuan Desert. (I'm working on my second book that revolves around that experience called, Lajitas Lizard and the Bandido, tentatively subtitled, Dancing with Dharma in the Desert.) On the vision quest this theme again arose as we started to hike out onto the fragile desert landscape to find our vision quest sites. 

Strong Eagle reminded us to "walk softly on the land" and went on to explain some of the history of this vast, wild land. About how it had been incorporated into the famous Big Bend Ranch back in the 1920's or 30's and quickly over grazed by the cattle of the ranch. Pointing to a patch of dark black fungus growing on the ground, he explained how this little fungus was slowly, ever so agonizing slowly, rebuilding that depleted soil. He cautioned us to respect it as well as the prickly plant life as we walked out across the desert. Native American spirituality is about honoring All our Relatives (mitakuye oyasin), which includes the land.

Jumping forward to 2012 and our small farm, I am always thinking about how do I "walk softly on the land" and farm? Are not these two diametrically opposed? Standing in the place today where Strong Eagle and I did our sweat lodge for that long ago workshop, where then was scrub forest, is now pasture. The bones of many of the trees that grew here still form a large mountain behind my office. While sitting around my fire pit, smoking my cigar and drinking my scotch (my communion bread and wine), their ghosts haunt me. Their dead decaying bodies form a habitat for all kinds of critters. But it is a reminder with a heavy heart for me. Was it worth it? I have often wondered.

Back to my question, how do we walk softly on the land and still farm? Our answer is to use natural, organic, sustainable, biodynamic farming practices.  Not a great answer, but the only one we have for now.

Gassho

P.S. Strong Eagle continues to do his own little part to restore the land's local flora. Not only was the grass overgrazed, but another vertebrate, Homo sapiens, "overgrazed" another native species, Lophophora williamsii , a.k.a. peyote. Each trip he takes some of the little cacti he brings from home and plants them somewhere out on the desert. God bless him!

July 17, 2012

First Bee Swarm

Bee Swarm

Last week we had a small tree fall across the back pasture fence. I went out there with one of my trusty chainsaws to cut it off the fence and make repairs. As I was cutting away, I noticed a lot of bees flying around my head. Hmm, not good, I thought. I started looking around. Maybe a foot away from where I was cutting with my saw hung a small swarm of bees, hanging from the very tree I was cutting. I quickly killed the chain saw and took a closer inspection.

Having my ever-present iPhone handy, I snapped a couple of photos of them. Regrettably, they were in the dark and didn't photograph well. Here (left) you can make out the small tree at the top that they were on hanging on as it lies across the fencing wire (shinny, running just under the tree trunk). The bees are down below.  Tried to enlarge, but didn't help much. You can sort of make out the bees here below:


Enlarged photo of bees


I have read about bee swarms, seen videos of them, and learned about them in my beekeeping class, but this was my personal, first encounter with a swarm. How fortunate, as I had just lost one of my weak swarms and had an empty beehive not 50' away!

I put the chainsaw away and went back to the barn, donned my bee suit, and picked up a 5 gal can with a lid that I keep for working with the bees. Going back out, I managed to sweep most of the bees into the can. Then walked them over to their new home (I hoped) and dumped them into it. It took about three trips, but I collected most of them.

I am happy to report, they moved right in. I'm feeding them lots of sugar water and will replace the queen in August with a new queen. (Usually when the bees swarm, it is with the old queen. The new queen stays in the old hive.) They are, pardon the pun, "busy as bees" doing all their bee things.